A Rasta Soul
Bob Marley’s widow, Rita Marley discusses the evolution of Rasta culture in North America.
Rita Marley’s Rastafarian journey began more than 45 years ago when she met Haile Selassie I, the last Emperor of Ethiopia and the man Rastafarians believe to be God-incarnate. Since then, the widow of reggae legend Bob Marley (she was also a member of the I-Threes, his backup singers), has devoted her life to spreading the Rasta mantra.
Rasta’s roots trace back to Jamaica in the 1930s where belief in Selassie’s divinity and the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy began to take shape. Rastafarians believe Jesus’ words were distorted by Babylon (Western civilization) and that Selassie will return to bring about the establishment of Zion, or Paradise, in Africa. Reggae artists such as Rita and Bob Marley proved hugely influential in growing the movement beyond Jamaica through their music and philosophy.
The 65-year-old Marley recently spoke with Zoomer about the evolution of Rasta, the obstacles she and Bob Marley faced and the truth she hopes today’s youth will glean from the Rastafarian faith.
Mike Crisolago: How important is it that your granddaughter’s film is screening at the ROM during Black History month?
Rita Marley: It’s a big mark in our history. For it to be screening during Black History Month and in Bob Marley’s birth month is very significant. (It) proves that Rasta is catching on in areas and places that would not accept it many years ago. It’s coming about naturally and it’s coming from the youth – the now generation – who…. are going to be able to learn more than they thought they knew.
MC: Speaking of youth, you were only 20 when you became part of the movement. Tell us about that experience.
RM: I had doubts myself when I heard about Rastafari (when) I met His Majesty [Haile Selassie I] in Jamaica in April 1966. I read about him and [journalist-activist] Marcus Garvey, and I said to myself, “I can’t believe that (Selassie) is the returned Messiah. I would one day hope to see him.” And that dream brought myself to reality to say, “Yes, this is the man” when I saw him. And that was it. I started to preach the gospel.
MC: Preaching wasn’t always easy. There were places that would not accept those who identified with the Rasta movement. How has Ontario’s Rasta community evolved?
RM: We (experienced it) many years ago when Bob Marley performed in Maple Leaf Gardens. (Now) you see more green and gold. You see more people walking around with dreadlocks, which never happened before. I wouldn’t say it’s common, but it’s the culture that’s gearing up, maybe for a takeover. You can never tell. [Laughs]
MC: In the 1960s, you wouldn’t have believed a film like this would be shown in the Royal Ontario Museum.
RM: No, they wouldn’t show it. Even on some stages where we’d perform, they’d ask us not to say the word “Rastafari” because in those days it was prohibited. They told the performers, “Please don’t say ‘Rastafari’ because it could create a thing in the theatre or some fight would start.
MC: And now it’s more accepted within mainstream culture.
RM: Oh yes, without a question. We did the hard part. [Laughs] It’s easier now.